A wall without a future: Israelis and Palestinians live in two different worlds

By Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

The border wall between Israel and the West Bank is among the most forbidding and hostile in the world. Viewed from up close, whichever side you find yourself on, it rears up from the ground, overwhelming and dominating you. It is dispiriting, intimidating, oppressive, and otherworldly. On each side of the wall lives a different people. It is a monument to one of the world’s most intractable disputes.

I have been following the Israeli – Palestinian conflict since 1981. The conflict became increasingly complicated and, above all, unworthy. However, I could never believe that from 2002 on (during the Second Intifada) a wall would be built by Israel between the two communities. Since then I have been able to follow the construction of the wall, which has recently been completed and built on Palestinian territory. The divisions between Israel and Palestine are well established. You have to cross checkpoints in order to get in the other community, if you are allowed to do so. I regret that some visitors of the Holy Land look at the wall as “conflict tourists.”

Gaza and nonviolence resistance

The situation in Gaza can explode any minute. The Gazans are left behind and have to deal with their own suffering. The circumstances can have repercussions outside of the Gaza Strip. Gaza is not only a humanitarian problem (the water is unclean; more than 60 % of the youth is unemployed; only three hours electricity a day). It is politically a hot potato. No solution has been found between Hamas and Fatah to transfer all authority over Gaza back to Ramallah.

Israel built a security barrier on the border with Gaza, begun in 1994; it is nearly 40 miles long. In addition, a 152-mile-long fence along the Egyptian-Israeli border was completed in 2013 and has halted illegal immigration from a variety of African countries (Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia). In 2016, Israel announced a plan to build an underground wall, more than a hundred feet deep, to prevent armed groups from emerging from tunnels to attack Israeli border towns. In Israel, the protection of the citizens comes first.

The Israeli blockade against the Strip is cruel, inhumane and a violation of civilizational standards. When can Palestinians return to their human dignity and their right to self-determination? The political problem is that Hamas controls everything in Gaza, dominating all aspects of life. They established a network of social welfare and educational systems around the local mosques that endeared the movement’s leaders to the people. There seems no political space for alternatives. Since 2008, I have visited Gaza several times. Complicated to get in! You need a permit from the Israeli authorities to enter Gaza. The small territory is isolated from the rest of the world by fences and barriers. It is an open prison! The small Christian community, numbering perhaps fewer than three thousand people, feels under pressure, and many are trying to leave.

Gaza is home to almost two million Palestinians, the majority of whom are long-term refugees (a further 3.25 million Palestinians live in the West Bank). Hamas has run Gaza since the elections in 2007. Hamas is a radical ideological movement that is deeply anti-Israel. Israel, the USA and the EU among others designate the group as a terrorist organisation. The question is: do you talk with Hamas or not? Some say “yes” you have to maintain contacts, talk, and others certainly say “no”: you never talk to a terrorist association.

On 30 March 2018, a “March of Return” started as a Gazan civil society initiative expressing people’s desire to live with dignity and with hope of a better future. The plan was to hold every Friday a peace march until the 15th of May, Nakba Day. The weekly demonstrations along the Israeli-Gaza border have increased their intensity in numbers, locations and frequency. Despite the nonviolent character of the March, IDF snipers have killed more than 240 (young) Palestinians. Critics said the Israeli forces sometimes opened fire even when two crucial conditions of international law for using lethal force were absent: the targeted individual posed a danger and the threat was immediate. The Gazans asked for the end of the Israeli-Egyptian siege on Gaza. It is about putting an end to the totally unacceptable cage that Gaza has become over the past 10 years.

West Bank

Palestine has de facto two separate entities. The distance between them is not the issue. If all sides could agree, the 25 miles of intervening Israeli territory could be overcome with a highway bridge or tunnel. However, the two regions remain separated not just by geography, but also by politics and ideology. Fatah officially accepts the concept of “two states for two peoples”. They expect the same policy from the other partner Israel. Hamas rejects, at least formally, any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. All parties in the conflict should recognize each other’s existence.

Behind the great security barrier live 2.5 million Palestinians. Life in West Bank is hard, but easier than in Gaza. The health care is of a low standard and that is why thousands are treated in Israeli hospitals. Work permits are hard to obtain. Palestine is hardly an open society. The Palestinian leadership is in a deep crisis. The political leadership and the political apparatus urgently need renewal, rejuvenation and transparency. Palestine will remain a house divided.

Political process

There is no real political peace process between Israel and Palestine. It has been tried several times already: Oslo in 1993; Camp David in 2000; Taba in 2001; the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002; the Roadmap for peace in 2003; Annapolis in 2007-2008; and the efforts of former US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014-2015. All attempts have failed because of a lack of political will. The involvement of the international community is essential and that is lacking as well. It needs more vigour and teeth to bring pressure.

Israel has no real desire to unify the Palestinian people and to negotiate a peace treaty with them that would cost Israel the need to withdraw from territory in the West Bank and allow Palestinians in Gaza to enjoy a normal life of freedom and a chance of hope for a better future.

Political life in Israel

It is expected that in 2019 new national elections will take place in Israel. Israeli governments are always formed by coalitions. All Israelis want their country to be strong, stable, democratic, safe and at peace with its neighbours. The sense of unity is high among the Israelis (especially when war comes) although major differences occur on the relations between the state and the role of religion as well as on the position of the Israeli Arab citizens (a fifth of the population). Israel keeps conquering land from the Palestinians illegally. The issue of the settlements divides Israeli public opinion; the wisdom, legality and morality of their existence are always fiercely debated. Gaps between different groups in Israel are widening and poverty is growing. Differences within society also affect the political sphere. Most in the secular category see themselves as Israeli first and Jewish second. Most Orthodox sees themselves as Jewish first and then Israeli. Religious political parties are almost components in coalition governments. Religious parties tend to dominate matters of education and religion. In recent years, the political and democratic space for NGOs, journalists and writers has shrunk.


Walls are containing the violence. Walls should be temporary. That temporality is long gone. For that to happen an agreement will be needed not only between the two sides, but also within them. New leaders should be chosen who would invest in building bridges, not walls. Books, not weapons. Morality, not corruption. To ever renew negotiations between Israel and Palestine, it is necessary to believe that there are partners for peace on the other side.

Many believe that the only viable way of finding a way out is the Two-State Solution fulfilling the aspirations for peaceful coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians. This option must be repeated on a regular basis what the Holy See for instance is doing.


Syria: The forgotten war?

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Peace in Syria remains far away. The concern and commitment of the international political community and by international civil society, including NGO’s and the churches, is very low. The war in Syria became a far from my bed show! The civil war is no longer the first item in the news. Does it even have a news value? I hope that the (forgotten) war remains a news item. Especially because of the many innocent victims of this conflict.

International institutions have not been able to prevent the conflict and/or to end it. United Nations’ diplomacy is not or insufficiently visible in Syria. That leaves the door open for others like Russia, Iran and partly Turkey to impose its strategy. Syria is on its way to becoming a Russian – Iranian protectorate.

UN-led talks appear stalled

We can only hope that, after more than 7 years of civil war, constructive (silent) diplomacy or “diplomacy behind the scenes” is in progress. It is said that different sets of peace talks continue but have made only modest progress. UN-led talks appear stalled, while the Syrian opposition is reluctant to join Russian-sponsored talks. Russia and Iran are backing President Bashar al-Assad politically and military. Assad wants to remain in power. Will this civil war be concluded by military victories? The answer will be partly true but in the end, one needs a political settlement. Many believe that it is Russia that is best placed to broker a deal. Russia has made good use of the political vacuum that the West has left behind.

Largest humanitarian disaster of this century

The war context is the worst of all worlds: Assad remains in power; Iran and Russia are emboldened; extremism has flourished; half a million Syrians have been killed; many killed by chemical weapons; thousands have been killed in the prisons; a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions have been created; twelve million Syrians have fled their homes (half externally); destructions of large portions of major towns and cities; hospitals, schools and water supplies have been bombarded; and there is no end in sight!

The defeat of the Islamic State’s Caliphate in Syria and Iraq will not eradicate jihadism nor ISIS loyalists. However, the fight against ISIS is far from over. The current situation is that ISIS still exists despite large losses. They are still active in the east of Syria. That is at the border with Iraq. Many will go underground to fight another day in the same region or elsewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan. ISIS still has a small but significant following abroad.

The military defeat of ISIS would not have been possible without the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party or PYD and the Arab groups that merged around it. The Kurdish question should be part of a final political settlement in the region. Turkey has historically had a difficult time with the Kurdish population not only in their own country but also in the wider region. Turkish leadership is willing to discuss possible autonomy but is against a separate Kurdish state.

Where is the political soft power of the EU?

The European Union is not speaking with one voice and remains divided. Some of the EU member states are under Russian or USA influence. The profile of EU foreign relations and policies is very low. Does the EU really have nothing to say?

The basic question is: will the EU in the future ever be able to play an important and significant role in international relations and especially in conflict mediation and conflict resolution?

Maybe the only dimension serious discussed within the EU is the humanitarian aid and the possible reconstruction. Since 2011, Syria has received over 9.5 billion euros in aid from the EU and its member states. Most of this is humanitarian aid. Emergency humanitarian relief is also a priority.

The EU on at least two instruments has made more money available: (1) on Contributing to Stability and Peace and (2) for Democracy and Human Rights. Member States do also focus on local-level projects supporting civil society at least in those parts of the country where that is possible as well as on tackling the root causes of displacement and reintegrating refugees. Local peace building is vital because high-level peace deals between elites tend not to guarantee deep-rooted stability.

Ceasefire and political settlement

Supporting democracy, human rights and stability at the local level is obviously very good, but first work has to be done on reaching a ceasefire by all parties involved and then work has to be done on negotiations that can, systematically, lead to an imposed peace for everyone.

At the same time, a political settlement should also include the right of return for the many refugees and displaced. There is no return to pre-war Syria. The psychological gap on return will be deep. Refugees can hardly imagine returning to, and building a future in, their areas of origin, which have so changed that these people feel they would be unable to adapt.

Only a political settlement can create the conditions for refugees to return, by bridging the gap between the old Syria and the post-war Syria to which refugees could imagine returning. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands Syrians have been integrated in Western nations or are living (in refugee camps) in neighbouring countries.

Continue to pay attention to possible escalation

Syria’s war may go on for some time. Extending the conflict to other countries is fortunately not happening. Nevertheless, any fighting might escalate rapidly. Especially Israel is in a permanent alert situation so as not to let the conflict escalate. Israel has grown fearful that Syria is becoming an Iranian base. Israel wants to prevent its rivals from consolidating a permanent military presence anywhere in Syria. The protection of Israeli citizens is their main priority.

The major open question is: what will be the post conflict political structure of Syria and how will a new Syria be integrated in the broader picture of the Middle East?

(Photo from×9&w=1200&$p$f$w=03a7614)

Deep concern about Jewish Nation-State Law

By Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

Recent historic events such as the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel as well as the 70 years of “catastrophe” (or Nakba) for the Palestinians of mid-May 2018, have politically put nothing in motion. On the contrary, the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians are deeper than ever. The two communities have been further polarized and their political leaders have not been able to take any initiative at all to find a possible solution to the decades-long conflict. The international community looks at it but does not undertake anything significant. The divisions are structural, fundamental and marked by the occupation of the Palestinian territory for more than 50 years. Moreover, the divisions between the Palestinian factions (Hamas/Gaza and Fatah/West Bank) are further enflamed and politically abused. Recent political developments in Israel make dialogue between Israel and Palestine almost impossible.

Basic Nation State Law

The latest drastic decision is the “Basic Nation State Law” taken by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. That law was adopted by the Knesset 62 in favour, 55 against and 2 abstentions on 19 July 2018. The law defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It has been met with worldwide criticism, including from within the Jewish diaspora.

This new legislation is of great concern and violates democratic principles such as the equality of all citizens. Civil rights should be equal rights. The law fails to provide any constitutional guarantees for the rights of the indigenous and other minorities living in the country. Arabic citizens of Israel, constituting 20%, are flagrantly excluded from the law – such as Arabic/Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Druze, Bedouin residents, etc. We are talking about 1.5 million citizens of Israel who identify themselves as Arab Israeli.

The measure ignores an entire segment of the population as if its members and citizens never existed. It seems non-Jewish people are no longer welcome in Israel. And what then is the position of the many inhabitants in Israel who belong to the Jewish people but do not profess the Jewish religion? The law discriminates among peoples, which means that the dignity of each individual citizen is not respected. The political impact of Jewish religion on Israeli society is more than ever now a reality.

Defining the character of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state weakens the democratic ethos which is supposed to be a key element of Israeli society. The Jewish identity in Israel is increasingly characterised by the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox communities, for whom ethnic and religious pluralism in “their land” is intolerable. That will result in further fragmentation of their society.

Law encourages further settlement building

The Arabic language has been downgraded from a second official language to a language with “a special status”. The law also declares that the State views the development of Jewish settlements as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation of such settlements. This strengthens the hand of settlement groups seeking to seize properties from Palestinians and from Christian church properties as well. The existence and further development of settlements in the Occupied Territories is against international law and in contradiction of all related United Nations resolutions. The further intended construction of Jewish settlements is a bridge too far.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity exist in the Holy Land

What will be the impact of the Basic Law for the other religions, including Islam and Christianity? Together with Judaism these two religions form the profile and identity of the Holy Land. One cannot do without the other. They exist and form one important section of the country that is inspired by these three religions. That means that the Holy Land and all the holy places are part of the three religious traditions and cultures. Jerusalem, as holy and eternal city of the three religions, must be shared. It cannot be the exclusive possession of one faith over against the others, or of one people over against the others. We keep talking of Jerusalem as a city of three religions and two peoples.

Law is exclusive rather than inclusive

The main conclusion is that the Basic Law is rather exclusive than inclusive. It strengthens the institutionalization of racism and dispels hopes of equality. Any state with large minorities ought to recognize the collective rights of minorities and guarantee the preservation of their collective identity, including their religious, ethnic and social traditions. Freedom of religion and religious identity, which are supposed to be guaranteed for all Israeli citizens, is at stake.

Critical opinions are not welcome

In today’s Israel, any criticism of Israeli governmental decisions is labeled as anti-Israeli. Critics are prevented from entering Israel, regardless of their nationality and religion, including Jews. Both Israeli citizens inside the country and Jews and non-Israelis from outside who make critical and constructive remarks against certain measures of this Israeli government are considered anti-Zionist and especially anti-Semitic. We all know someone, a colleague or a friend, who is not allowed to enter the country of Israel because of critical remarks about government policy. This is the tactic of enforcing silence! We all should refuse to surrender the right to speak or fall into the collective complacency of silence. A critical look at political decision-making only benefits the quality of a democracy.

Break the spiral of silence!

As matters now stand, it is the Israeli state that dominates the entire land – exploiting it as its own, and privileging the Israeli Jewish citizens. It seems that Israel does whatever it wants in the West Bank and in Gaza, and they get away with it. Israel no longer even says “sorry” for certain negative impacts of measures taken on Palestinian citizens. Financial support to the Palestinian Authority has been reduced, bringing it dangerously close to bankruptcy. The UNRWA, the UN agency which takes care of the Palestinian refugees, feels the financial crisis. The result is less care and facilities for citizens, in particularly the refugees. The unbearable consequences are that almost no one in Israel, or around the world, lifts a finger or shows sign of even caring.

Without inside and outside pressure allied with fresh thinking, we are unlikely to get any closer towards finding an equitable way to share the land for both Israelis as well as Palestinians.

We all need to keep the struggle high in achieving peace between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people in their independent state, as well as between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world. There is no real choice or alternative for the State of Israel to reach peace with Palestinians and its broader neighbourhood as to integrate into the geographical and political region in which it is located. The mission continues!


Emotions dominate people and world events

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Besides being a century of migration and globalisation, our 21st century has also become a century of nationalism and of a renewed search for identity. The ideological battle of the 20th century and of the Cold War especially (1945-1989) has become an identity battle. We live in a time in which we carry out our “identity”, both as an individual and as a nation. We demand the right to be unique, to be different. Some are even prepared to “battle” in order to make others acknowledge them in their existence.


Emotions or passions are part of our human feelings. One needs a certain passion in order to come across convincingly. All of us are driven by emotions, but because these differ in most cases – at times are even opposed to each other – these divide us rather than unite us. And by definition our emotions are selective since they are mostly subjective. Some selective emotions, for instance the extreme egoism of my own country first (America First or Mother Russia First), are more dangerous to the world than universal cynicism and the complete absence of emotions. By nature, emotions are variable and diverse and at times even contradictory. But that one emotion that has been driving us the last couple of years is fear, in various forms. Some speak of an actual culture of fear.

We cannot understand the world in which we live without taking the role of feelings in world geopolitics into account. It is important to put our emotions into perspective in order to rise above them and not to get hung up on them, but mostly to just understand the “other”. The message therefore is to put feelings into perspective so as not to be dominated by them. Emotions reflect the level of confidence of a society. And it is that measure of confidence that determines whether a society is able to recover from crises, whether it can take up challenges and whether it can conform to changing circumstances.


Primarily, there are three types of emotions: fear, hope and humiliation. Obviously, there are other emotions too, like anger, indignation, hate, pain, sorrow, love, honour or solidarity. The emotions fear, hope and humiliation are, however, most applicable to the concept of trust between people as well as between peoples/nations. One of the main causes of rivalry, distrust and “own people/nation first”-thoughts is a lack of trust. It is like a downward spiral and this can lead to possible (armed) conflicts. Trust is as important to nations and civilisations as it is to individuals. Trust is a significant indicator of the (healthy) state of our world. This is why, in politics too, we speak of taking “confidence-building measures” in order to mitigate or resolve areas of tension or conflict in, for instance, the Ukraine or with North Korea.

Identity is closely related to trust, and trust (or lack thereof) is expressed in emotions – especially in feelings of fear, hope and humiliation.


Throughout the years, fear has deepened, expanded and diversified. When people(s) feel humiliated, fear lashes out. It is an emotional reaction to potential danger or insecurity. Sometimes people are afraid because they do not know what to expect. By a constant focus in our society on problems related to migration and security, a culture of fear is being created. There is a fear of the other, of foreigners who pour into our countries, who threaten our identity and steal our jobs. There is a fear of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; of economic insecurity or collapse. There is a fear of disease and natural catastrophes. It concerns fear of the unknown and of a threatening future, on which humankind can exert little or no influence. Such fears are found worldwide and have globalised through, among others, the relocation of activities abroad, job loss and “unfair” instead of “free” trade. Although one should treat (feelings of) fear seriously, they should also be put into perspective. Fear can give way to hope.


Hope is an expression of confidence and is based on the belief that the situation today is better than that of yesterday and that tomorrow it will be better than today.

There is a spiritual conception of hope: the belief in the redemption of human beings through the liberation from sin. People cannot continue without hope. In a way, we all share the calling to be “givers of hope” to one another. Give hope. Encourage each other and try to be ahead of despair, or to at least make room for despair in life. Hope is central to our Christian culture, just like belief and love.

In the secular sense of the word, hope represents the belief in one’s own identity, in one’s ability to be interactive with the world in a positive way. Hope is the opposite of resignation or surrender; rather it is a form of confidence that encourages us to come close to other people, to accept their differences from us without fear.


Humiliation is powerlessness. Humiliation is the injured confidence of those who have lost their hope for the future. We often consider our lack of hope to be caused by others, as those who have treated us badly in the past. One experiences humiliation when one is not in control over one’s own life, whether as an individual or as a people/nation. The feeling is that someone else completely dominates you and has made you dependant. You have lost power and control over the present and especially over the future. The feeling of humiliation is present in all cultures and civilisations. Humiliation itself is quite useless and we shall try to turn it into hope, else it leads to despair and to having feelings of hate or revenge, which can easily turn into a desire to destroy.


With the end of the Cold War in November 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall – the beginning of a culture of hope) came the breakthrough of the phenomenon of globalisation. Globalisation is a dynamic process, consisting among others in the integration of markets, nation-states and technologies. It enables individuals, societies and nations to act quicker than ever in order to “command” the world. In the period of globalisation, the relationship with the other has become more fundamental than ever. We live in uncertain times and the first one we look upon negatively is the other, he or she that comes from far away, mostly from the South. That insecurity begins with fear for the other.

Israel and Palestine

How are two peoples with different emotional “landscapes” to be reconciled? The exodus of a large number of Jewish people to Palestine was like a miracle of rebirth, a new home. That same event is called the “Nakba” by the Palestinians and for them is a synonym for a disastrous defeat and repression. Driven from their homes!

Israelis consider their state to be legitimate and a necessary manifestation of their existence as a nation. The Palestinians, just as the Arabs, experienced it as an anachronistic display of Western imperialism. This clash of two peoples is related to humiliation and fear. An absolute and unique tragedy, such as the Shoah, gave birth to a nation; and a different people has been crushed and repressed by a victim that has largely grown blind to the suffering of others. This tragic and lasting confrontation is an especially emotional event that impacts our global society.

Israel’s central and “emotional” location, in the midst of the Arab and Muslim world, has led Arabs to experience the existence of the state Israel as “stolen territory”. What a humiliation! Arabs consider this territory to be their own land, including Jerusalem and its Dome of the Rock, one of the three most holy places of Islam.

The only real solution to the conflict is that all parties recognise both the state of Israel and a to-be-built state of Palestine as full, equal and with hope for the future. It remains problematic and a reason for further conflict to continue humiliating both peoples by not or inadequately recognising them.

If there is one large community that has been humiliated during many years, it is the Arab population — especially after the subdivision of the Ottoman Empire into British and French mandates about a hundred years ago and especially through the post-1945 politics of the USA that have been characterised by political interventions and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other things. The West has humiliated the Arab world.

On the other hand, the Arab community itself should set things right by reworking the differences between Sunnis and Shiites into a workable and constructive tension which enables all people and all communities to enjoy their basic rights. It is not an option to continue humiliating, or even destroying, each other!

In conclusion

Ignorance and intolerance go hand in hand. Peace and reconciliation are only possible for people and communities that know and accept one another. Recognise each other’s existence! Despite the fact that we live in an age of information, we do not understand other people or different communities any better than we did in the past, rather the opposite seems to be true.

It seems that in our complex world, cultures, nations and even individuals are getting more and more obsessed by their own identities. This obsession can only further increase the significance of emotions in international relations. But perhaps everything first starts with self-knowledge. Only people and communities that are at peace with themselves, that know who they are and what they represent, can come to terms with others.

* Photo courtesy of National Public Radio at

The message of internationalism is banning war

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Si vis pacem, para pacem
If you want peace, prepare for peace

This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War – 1914/1918 – a conflict that reconfigured the face of Europe and the entire world with the emergence of new states in place of ancient empires. The death toll from the First World War was at least 16 million.

From 19 to 22 April 2018, the French cities of Arras and Lille (and its surroundings) commemorate and celebrate the armistice of November 1918. Pax Christi International and several members of its national sections are participating in the programme.

From the ashes of the Great War, we can learn lessons that, sad to say, humanity did not immediately grasp, leading within the space of 20 years to a new and even more devastating conflict. Some experts, by including war-related deaths from disease and famine, put the total death toll from the Second World War at over 80 million.

Lessons learned

The first lesson is that victory never means humiliating a defeated foe. Peace is not built by vaunting the power of the victor over the vanquished. Future acts of aggression are not deterred by the law of fear, but rather by the power of calm reason that encourages dialogue and mutual understanding as a means of resolving differences.

This leads to a second lesson: peace is consolidated when nations can discuss matters on equal terms. This was grasped a hundred years ago by the then President of the United States Woodrow Wilson[1] who proposed the establishment of a general league of nations with the aim of promoting for all states, great and small alike, mutual guarantees of independence and territorial integrity. This laid the theoretical basis for that multilateral diplomacy, which has gradually acquired over time an increased role and influence in the international community as a whole.

A possible third lesson is that people are made to pay for the wrongs of their state, especially when these states are losing wars. Collective responsibility has its limits. The role of an individual can take various forms from collaborator, co-perpetrator to dissident or conscientious objector. Countries that win a war determine the punishment of the transmitters, including the actions of some individuals.

Institutions to ban war

The ”Internationalists”[2] or “Multilateralists”[3] maintain that war is a barbaric way to resolve disputes and that the best way to resolve controversies is through international institutions such as the League of Nations and later the United Nations.

The League of Nations, established in 1920, was not able to make the last war the last war. The League of Nations was an international organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, created after the First World War to provide a forum for resolving international disputes. USA President Woodrow Wilson[4] was the initiator but due to the isolationist policies of USA Congress, his country never became member of that intergovernmental body. Throughout its history, the League has never really been able to prove its full value. There was a serious absence of an adequate organisation of international police action.

Ten years after WWI, in 1928, the Paris Peace Pact[5] was signed by 63 nations. Aristide Briand, the French foreign minister, and Frank Kellogg, the USA secretary of state, took the lead in getting the Pact realised. The message of the Pact was that the world would no longer treat war as a lawful mean to resolve disputes. War was deprived from its legitimacy. War is regarded as a departure from civilised policies. The Pact was aimed at ending war between states. It certainly had not ended all armed conflict.

The pact was supposed to end war, just as the League of Nations, but the Kellogg-Briand pact failed because of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, and the German invasion of Poland in 1939. The pact did some good for international laws and is still known in the US as a federal law.

International peacekeeping

The establishment of the United Nations[6] took place on 26 June 1945. The Charter has been signed then by 50 nations. During the WWII both USA President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill have been the big fore takers. Roosevelt had to fight against isolationism and Churchill had to learn that the UK was at its end of being a world power.

The main idea was that four countries (USA, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and China – later on France was also de facto included in the P5[7]) should play a kind of police keeping in international relations. They gave themselves also a permanent seat in the Security Council and a right to veto draft resolutions and that became a serious blockage in specific cases, as happened in the recent wars in Syria and Ukraine for instance.

Peacekeeping is the main drive of the UN. Right from the beginning, NGO’s were also allowed to be part of the UN system mainly as consultative bodies.[8] In June 1945, the war with Japan was still ongoing and nuclear bombs were dropped on the country on 6 and 9 August 1945. The new constitutions after the war of the losing countries, Germany, Italy and Japan – the Axis – includes an article that made it impossible for these countries to go to war again. That article was enforced by the winning countries – the Allies.

They are the “United Nations”, not the “Western Nations”! The great benefit of the UN is that almost all countries are members of it. So also the countries with non-democratic regimes, some of which violate human rights on a daily basis. The UN is a forum where everyone can talk to everyone. This is a pragmatic approach.

When WWII ended, the tension between the rhetoric of self-determination and the reality of colonisation became difficult to maintain. After 1945, the number of states exploded. Two keys forms of state birth – decolonisation (notably in the 50s and 60s) and the fracturing of larger states into smaller ones – the former Soviet Union and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for instance in the 90s – led to the rapid increase in UN members. The membership has increased to a total today of 193 states and the present accommodation of the General Assembly has room for about 204 members. The most recent state is South Sudan that split from Sudan in 2011.

Still, a series of conflicts emerged since 1945 and many open conflicts have not yet been solved. The UN has almost no or not at all influence over certain conflicts. The dispute between India and Pakistan on Kashmir since 1947; since 1948, conflict between Israel and Palestine; war raged in Korea 1950-1953; in Vietnam 1955-1978. Genocidal conflicts erupted in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s; and civil war ravaged Sudan for more than two decades. In addition, in 2015 alone, high-fatality civil wars continues in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Ukraine.

Wars are costly!

The modern attitude is to regard wars as uncontroversial bad, moral catastrophes to be avoided at almost all costs. Waging war have always been very expensive. Wars are costly, in both lives and treasure, and often lead to unintended consequences – as the turbulent aftermath in both Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya demonstrate. Wars between states are now rare. Conquest has been the exception, no longer the role. Wars within states still happen.

In a world where weak states can become failed states and failed states give rise to civil war and terrorism, it is not only good law but also good sense to pressure state institutions with outcasting – with sanctions policies for instance – rather than destroy them with war.

Need stronger framework for solving disputes via diplomacy

The concept and the right of “self-defence”[9] is and has been open for interpretations and has been allowing certain states for military interventions protecting their own territory or interests. Sure, war crimes and genocides need to be prevented. Reliance on “self-defence” as a justification for using force can only be justified in cases of “armed attack”. Good functioning international institutions should provide the framework for solving disputes diplomatically.

Throughout the world, anti-internationalist sentiment is growing. That is not a good evolution. Isolationism and unilateralism cannot be an option. We all bear responsibility for the world in which we live. Together we can and must continue to support institutions that have kept the peace, adapt them to changing circumstances, and develop new ones that will further reduce violence.

All states are by nature equal in dignity, as well as the acknowledgment of one another’s rights and the fulfilment of their respective duties. The basic premise of this approach is the recognition of the dignity of the human person, since disregard and contempt for that dignity resulted in barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of humankind.

Indeed, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 affirms, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.[10]

Ideas are stronger than weapons

We live in a fragile world. The status of peace should be a condition in which globalisation has produced so many shared interests in trade and finance that states prefer to go to arbitration rather than war. To win a war over the future of the world order, one must fight not simply with powerful weapons, but with power ideas. Much has to do with the struggle of the minds! “Si vis pacem, para pacem” – “If you want peace, prepare for peace”.



[8] Pax Christi International has its consultative status with the UN since 1979.


Photo courtesy of the Aleppo Media Centre.


Ukraine’s conflict with Russia

By Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

Despite its central role in European politics and East-West relations more generally, the war in Ukraine has largely disappeared from public and political view. We must be aware that we face the real prospect of “the mother of all frozen conflicts” on our doorstep.

In international relations, a frozen conflict is a situation in which active armed conflict has been brought to an end, but no peace treaty or other political framework resolves the conflict to the satisfaction of the parties involved. A “frozen conflict” also means that there is no daily fighting but the situation remains permanently tense and a local outburst of violence is possible at any time. Therefore, legally the conflict can start again at any moment, creating an environment of insecurity and instability. The de facto situation that emerges may match the de jure position asserted by one party to the conflict; for example, Russia claims and effectively controls Crimea following the 2014 Crimean crisis despite Ukraine’s continuing claim to the region. Alternatively, the de facto situation may not match either side’s official claim.

The war in eastern Ukraine is also rapidly slipping off the political agenda in those countries tasked with brokering and ensuring peace and conflict resolution. The EU lost its dynamic and remains inwardly oriented for the time being. Ukraine will hold in 2019 both presidential and parliamentary elections and that is casting already a shadow over the domestic politics.

Whereas three-quarters of the population are ethnically Ukrainians, around 17% – mainly in the east of the country – are ethnically Russian and around 30% of the population say Russian is their first language. Ukraine is a country of more than 40 million people with very diverse views.

Some 2 million of these Russian-speaking Ukrainians instantly became Russian citizens on 18 March 2014 when Crimea was formally annexed by Russia. The loss of Crimea was compounded by a well-armed pro-Russia separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, which has led to months of heavy – but inconclusive – fighting with government forces.

High number of displaced

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed over 10.000 lives and more than 24.000 wounded and constitutes a grave ongoing humanitarian crisis. About 1.8 million have been displaced internally or are affected by conflict in Ukraine, and an estimated 1 million have fled to Russia. At the end of 2017, the UN estimated that almost 4.4 million people are affected by the conflict, with 3.4 million of them in need of humanitarian aid and protection.

Mother Russia is alive again!

It was and still is the ambition of President Vladimir Putin to restore Russia’s status in the world. That meant for instance in 2014 the threat of military force to help local pro-Russian forces accomplish the annexation of Crimea – a majority of whose population are ethnically Russians – from Ukraine.

The Crimean parliament hastily organised a referendum on independence under the watchful eyes of growing numbers of still unidentified soldiers! The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of independence. On 17 March 2014, the Supreme Council of Crimea declared the Republic of Crimea an independent nation. The republic then renounced its independence and requested admission into Russia. President Putin granted the request and declared that the proper conditions are ensured for the people of Crimea to be able to freely express their will.

Crimea also contains the port of Sevastopol, a base for Russia’s Black Sea navy giving it access to the Mediterranean. Moscow is or has been planning either a direct bridge or a road from Russia to the Crimean Peninsula. At the same time, most Crimeans did want to join “mother Russia” as the Russian writer Fjodor Dostojevsky (1821-1881) described it earlier in the 19th century. Tsarism, nationalism/patriotism and the orthodox religion were the bounding foundations of this concept of “mother Russia.”

It is the first time since the Second World War that a European country with military force has changed its borders and annexed part of another European country. The EU will extend the sanctions against Russia, but the annexation of the Crimea will silently be accepted.

In April 2014, pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine could rely on the political backing of Russia in their effort to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, although not all people in the region prefer this scenario. Pro-Russian separatists declared the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the goal of unification with Russia. Later in that month, separatists declared the People’s Republic of Luhansk, which in May merged with its Donetsk equivalent to form the confederation of Novorossiya. However, the lack of unity and control remains in the occupied territories.

These events created serious tensions because in 1994 in the Budapest memorandum the USA, UK and Russia agreed to be joint guarantors of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The memorandum confirmed also to remove the (former Soviet Union) nuclear warheads stationed in Ukraine back to Russia.

A regional solution?

The consequence of the crisis in and around the Ukraine is the threat of a renewed cold war, and the possibility – if only by accident – that it might become hot. Moscow tries to freeze the conflict as much as it can. The UN Security Council was not able to settle the dispute because the Russians intended to make use of their voting right.

A UN backed military response was impossible, because Russia holds a permanent seat on the Security Council and thus is in a position to veto any authorisation. Russia is also a nuclear power, and its military strength is second only to the USA. The only option for the international community was to outcast Russia with economic sanctions. The EU decided to do this because the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine must be respected. The EU cannot accept the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation. Russia was excluded from the major industrialised countries, the Group of Eight – G8 (and became consequently only G7). Russia responded with sanctions as well, which has consequences for some EU countries. Anyway, international law should be respected and a regional solution will have to be found in which all those involved must recognize themselves.

Is Ukraine part of Europe?

Possible European integration is a key discussion in the conflict. The majority of Ukrainians are in favour of being part of Europe via the EU. The country seeks a European future. If the majority of Ukrainians choose to also enter into close relations with Europe, and are willing to cooperate with Europe to this end and want to take over a lot of European values and regulations, then we cannot accept that another country, in this case Russia, which tries to stop that choice. On 27th of June 2014, the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was signed.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko’s government has not addressed the systematic corruption at the root of many of the country’s problems. Many Ukrainians are losing faith in laws, institutions, and elites. Ukrainian society has a low level of trust in central authorities. Anger at the Minsk II agreement, which Ukrainians see as a concession to separatists and Moscow, is growing, even among reformists. The authorities continue to use the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine as an excuse for the slow pace of reform and to silence critical voices by labelling them as Russian agents.

Civic groups that work toward seeking dialogue, truth, and reconciliation in the context of the armed conflict are blamed by other civic organisations for being unpatriotic and influenced by Russia. Nevertheless, volunteer activities in Ukraine have decreased since 2014. While civic activists have not given up, serious concerns persist about its civil society’s impact. A culture of compromise and cooperation needs to be strengthened in the society that is more important in a context given the impact of radical nationalist and far-right groups that promote religious and ethnic intolerance.

UN Mission in Ukraine?

The UN Security council is discussing a possible UN peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. Some more political will on all sides is a condition in realising a peace keeping dynamic. Clearly, a UN mandate should cover the whole territory of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, including the Russian-Ukrainian border. At the same time, a UN mission should reinforce – not replace – the operations of the OSCE mission on the ground. The UN lacks practical experience in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and has been recently involved in peacekeeping operations mostly outside of Europe. UN peacekeepers should help the OSCE to maintain peace. It is expected to have some 20.000 peacekeepers, of course excluding Russian forces! Also important is that a UN mission should support the implementation of the Minsk agreements, not at least in monitoring local and parliamentary elections.

A UN mission creates a small window of opportunity for further diplomacy. Political will on all sides remains a prerequisite for keeping peace.